HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont said Friday he will soon issue an executive order that will make it easier for frontline workers who contract COVID-19 to qualify for workers’ compensation payments.
Lamont initially had not favored a presumption that those types of workers contracted the virus while on the job, but he changed course after pressure from the state AFL-CIO and other unions that had pushed for the provision. Under the change, essential workers will receive the benefit of the doubt that they contracted the virus while working.
“Connecticut owes a debt to the health care professionals, grocery store clerks, and other essential workers who stood at their posts during the darkest days of this pandemic,” Lamont said Friday. “We can pay a part of that debt by providing workers who contracted COVID-19 on the job during those days with a timely, straightforward opportunity to claim any benefits they are due through the workers’ compensation system. I am committed to providing that opportunity through a forthcoming executive order. I appreciate those employers who have done the right thing by their employees, the Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation Commission for operating continually throughout this pandemic, and most of all, the workers for their efforts and sacrifice.”
Some advocates had pushed for the change to be adopted in an upcoming special legislative session, but Lamont’s executive order will eliminate the need for that. The order is expected to be issued next week. Specifics of what Lamont will impose, and precisely what workers will be covered, were not available Friday.
“Having suffered through job-related COVID-19 myself, I am grateful that Gov. Lamont is recognizing the essential effort and sacrifice of essential frontline workers,” Ligi said Friday. “My fellow correctional officers and I know that by going to work, we are putting our loved ones at risk. That weighs heavily on us. I hope the governor’s executive order will bring some relief because COVID-19 remains a threat to frontline workers everywhere — whether you’re a correction officer like me, or a grocery store clerk, a bus driver or a hospital nurse.”
Denise Rogers, a shuttle bus driver at Yale New Haven Hospital, testified at the June hearing that she constantly came in close contact with nurses and other health care workers as the coronavirus pandemic was spreading swiftly. She eventually contracted COVID-19 herself after spending all day in her full-time job in the enclosed vehicle. When Rogers tried to receive workers’ compensation benefits, she said she was denied after being unable to say exactly who gave her the coronavirus or prove precisely where she contracted the disease.
Joseph Brennan, chief executive officer of the 10,000-member Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said Friday that changing the law could open the floodgates to a series of new claims. Many business owners are concerned about more litigation and delays in the system and are opposed to the change.
Brennan said the language is overly broad because “essential” workers when the pandemic was spreading in March included “every manufacturer in Connecticut, construction, law firms, accounting firms and engineering firms” and not just workers help the elderly in nursing homes.
“People definitely could have gotten the virus somewhere else than work,” Brennan said. “Our biggest concern is the scope of this. If you hurt your back, you have to show that you were injured at work and not water skiing on the weekend.”
Rob Baril, president of the SEIU District 1199 New England union that represents nursing home workers, said last month it was an “absolute absurdity” that his members had been challenged in their requests for compensation.
“It seems like a science fiction movie or a bad satire where 50/80/100% of the residents and 25% of the staff is sick with COVID-19, and they fill out workmen’s compensation claims to deal with out-of-pocket expenses, and their applications are denied because they are told they can’t prove they got the virus in the facility,” he said.
Written by Christopher Keating